I love my wife. After a very average Saturday hanging around home, and about half an hour before she was due to start work, I suggested we shoot down to Melbourne for the 2014 Garden DesignFest. I have promised that I wouldn’t make these rash proposals anymore as we inevitably pay through the nose for last minute hotel bookings and travel – but we always have fun. “Well let’s decide now in case I have to pack a bag at midnight!” she said, and by 9.00am we were hurtling out of Melbourne airport with our sights set on the Mornington Peninsula.
Though gardens were being opened all across Melbourne we had to be ruthless about what we could visit with limited time, neither of us were very familiar with that part of Melbourne so the decision was easy. We witnessed three gardens that day and that was enough. I would have been happy to see one of these the quality was that high.
The ‘Garden Vineyard’ designed by Robert Boyle
The hire car skidded down a dirt road and into what must be an Australian benchmark for gardens. Deftly tipping its hat to the past yet very much living in the present, this garden is a platform for future garden makers willing to build on garden history with an Australian voice.
It is laid out in a traditional arrangement of garden rooms but the ‘furniture’ in these rooms is by no means leather-bound arm chairs and doily-clad tea chests.
The courtyard adjoining the house is beautifully composed of clipped Teucrium fruticans, Helichrysum petiolare, Buxus and rosemary with overhead stands of Lagerstroemia and the asymmetrical composition is given proportion by a brick-walled enclosure. This kind of arrangement is of course both traditional – think of the clipped forms in Japanese temple gardens such as Ryo-an-ji, and also contemporary gardens, such as work by Spanish garden maker Fernando Caruncho. It is a timeless design technique that transcends garden fashion and excites the imagination because of the infinite ways to define space. These forms can hold meaning like the poetic representation of distant mountains in a temple garden, or they can be more whimsical like reclaimed yew and box hedges in English gardens that duck and weave, or super stylish shapes for the sake of it in modern design.
This clipped form gardening is repeated twice more throughout the property to great effect and, while the room described above straddles traditional and contemporary gardening in equal measure, there was a larger room that to my mind was utterly modern and important, as it uses a predominantly native plant palette of the white trunks of Eucalyptus and the clipped grey of Westringia. This is a larger space and, as such, everything is scaled up. In the first room there is space for specimen shrubs and perennials but not here, and fewer species and less detail project a modern feel.
Earlier in my exploration, a sudden glimpse of the perennial border stimulated such a rush of emotion that water came out of my eyes…..yes I had a small cry. There was kind of radiating energy this room. On closer inspection I was a bit uncomfortable with the colour palette here which was coordinated in sections but not necessarily through the border as a whole, gathering warm oranges and yellows together with purples, white and pinks, but I’ll leave it at that as the planting was so generous it would be mean to go any further and, after all, it made water come out of my eyes, so it must have been doing something right! There were plants here we can only try and grow in Sydney such as Perovskia atriplicifolia that was erupting out of the ground, backed by spotless roses.
Any long axial views in the garden cleverly avoid neighbouring dwellings, extending the limits of the landscape. There is an Italianate corridor of clipped lilly pillies, and a gorgeous planting of birch in an immaculate lawn, which is an enviable sight for many Sydney gardeners. From the focus and composure of the garden rooms, the landscape is finally released from the back of the house where a picturesque vineyard rolls down the hill. Adjacent to this, curved beds of predominantly native plants give way to distant views.
‘Merricks’, designed by Robert Boyle
Our second garden visit took us along beautiful country roads to an area called Merricks, where we arrived at another of Robert Boyle’s gardens. This young country garden set in twelve acres of rolling country was a very different prospect to the Garden Vineyard and exciting for the change. A release from the order of garden rooms, it is intrinsically engaged with the broader landscape, and the position of the house plays an integral role.
But first I was immediately taken by the design of the entry gate, where a wall of local stone is accompanied by a row of large, square profile posts and a drift of Miscanthus – simple and strong. The driveway surface is local decomposed granite that forms the perfect approach, weaving through a remnant stand of towering Eucalyptus obliqua. The trees give way to open sky and the house is set a pleasing distance from the forest. The space between provides an opportunity for the human landscape to begin and this too undulates and wraps itself around the house.
I would love to visit this garden in ten years when the new tree plantings have matured and the power of the ‘reveal’ is in full flight. Then the forest will give way to the garden and soften and reveal the house as it finally opens out to fields and ocean views. The bones are there and it is already a tour de force but it would be lovely if we get the opportunity to visit this garden again and again over the years.
I enjoyed the planting throughout which felt generous and relaxed. Burgundy or purple seemed to punctuate throughout the landscape in the form of clipped Acmena hedges, Acer and Cotinus.
The use of local stone is repeated in the well-crafted landscape walls that define space and as natural boulders to support planting in sloping beds.
I’d like to walk you through our third garden of the day, Musk Cottage next time, so stay tuned…..